Penguins face prospect of playing against each other in new all-star format

MONTREAL – Kris Letang has always been Sidney Crosby’s teammate in the NHL, so he had think a bit when asked what it would be like if he has to play against him in the all-star game.

”It’ll make it more interesting,” the Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman said Wednesday. ”I’m used to playing him in practice, so it would be fun to play against him.

“But it’s not a real game. It’s not like it’s a regular season game. Nobody’s going to get hit, so it’s all good.”

The prospect of teammate against teammate or even brother against brother, in the case of Henrik and Daniel Sedin or Eric and Marc Staal, arose when the league changed it’s all-star format for the game Jan. 30 in Carolina, dropping the east-west clash for a system akin to a pick-up game.

First, a captain and two alternates for each team will be elected by their peers and announced next week. On Jan. 28, they will take turns drafting names from the 36 remaining players who were either voted in by fans or chosen by the league to play in the game.

Penguins fans did the best job of ballot-box stuffing and got four of their players elected—Crosby, Letang, centre Evgeni Malkin and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith were also voted in.

It would be a surprise if Crosby, the league scoring leader and one of its poster boys, was not chosen as one of the captains, as long as there is no setback in recovery from the concussion that has kept him out of action for the past week. His rival, Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, would be a strong candidate to get the other C.

And if Crosby is doing the drafting and doesn’t pick his Pittsburgh teammates?

”I might throw some eggs on his car when I come back,” Fleury said with a laugh. ”No, we’re just there to have some fun, so it’s no big deal if that happens.

”It should be pretty cool. Hopefully we can all play together. If not, it will be interesting to see what happens. We’re so used to playing and practising together. I guess it would be like in practice, but a little more serious. I’ll want to stop them so I can get the bragging rights.”

There will be three goaltenders per team, with each playing one period of a game that is generally less fun for puck-stoppers than it is for shooters. Goals tend to come quick and often in a game with no hitting and where, as Letang put it, the ”defencemen don’t play any defence.”

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”When it ends up with 12, 13, or 14 goals, it’s tough on the goalie, but the thing is that everyone has fun on the ice and no one wants to get injured,” said Fleury.

Letang, a write-in candidate who is having a career season, said that if he were a captain his first pick would be Crosby.

”It’s more the second and third players that aren’t so sure, but everyone there is a good player,” he said. ”I’d take the best attack available.

”The goalies only play one period and don’t even have time to get into the game. When games end up 16-15, the goalies can’t do much.”

Crosby did not make the trip to Montreal to play the Canadiens on Wednesday night and coach Dan Bylsma said there was no change in his status. The Penguins captain suffered a mild concussion, probably when he was clipped on the jaw by Washington’s Dave Steckel in the Winter Classic outdoor game Jan. 1 in Pittsburgh, although he played in the team’s next game Jan. 5 against Tampa Bay.

”He’s getting tested this week again and he’s getting better, but we’re not going to progress further until the symptoms subside,” said Bylsma. ” I said it’s about a week and we’re about there now. Again, we’re not going to move forward until his symptoms go away.”

The Penguins were winless in their first three games without Crosby, who leads the league with 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games. They scored only three goals in those games, including a 2-1 shootout loss in Montreal last week.

”We haven’t got to the front of the net very well,” said Bylsma. ”We’re aren’t spending extended offensive zone time like we like to do as a team, with or without Sidney. When we have had shots, the goalies have seen them, and we haven’t been able to create that offensive zone where we’re breaking teams down, getting second chances, getting in front of their goalie. It’s something we have to focus on as a team.”